The ESV Minister's Bible - Deluxe Edition (Black Calfskin)

If you've been reading Bible Design Blog long, you know I'm not a big fan of novelty Bibles. I'm old fashioned enough to think that whether you're a fireman, a policeman, a teen, or whatever, the same edition will serve just fine. Quality and function are essential, but the kind of kitschy "features" that seem to emerge from marketing brainstorming sessions leave me cold. 

There's a different, though, between novelty editions and specialty editions. In the past, I've championed more than a few specialized Bibles -- for example, wide margin editions in general and specifics like the Daily Reading Bible and The Books of the Bible. The difference between novelty and specialty is that while the former essentially offers a gimmick that sparks an impulse buy, the latter offers unique functionality that's actually of service to a slice of the Bible-reading public.

Take the concept behind Hendrickson's ESV Minister's Bible:

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The idea is to package a specially-developed Ministry Resources Guide at the back of the Bible, so that ministers have a quick reference for common tasks they're called upon to perform -- weddings and funerals, baptism, counseling, you name it. In some denominations there are official service books to fulfill this role, but for the most part, evangelical ministers are left to their own devices, often relying on resources that won't be ready at hand when needed. So why not take the essentials and bind them side-by-side with the Bible, a resources ministers typically do have handy?

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I love the idea, and its execution here illustrates both the benefits of the idea and why it's not more commonly done. Purists will perhaps be aghast at the thought of binding something else under the same cover as the Bible ... ignoring the fact that we've incorporated all kinds of helps into the text over time, everything from prefaces, references, and concordances to extra-biblical study notes. Once you get past the initial "Say What?" the concept makes perfect sense. The Bible is a book meant to be read, and also to be used. In the same way that I want to see editions that strip out the excess to provide an optimal reading experience, I'm all in favor of specialized editions that add the necessary helps to perform the tasks of ministry.

As an example, it frustrates me to no end that the only Bible I know of that incorporates the doctrinal standards of my denomination is also a big, bulky Study Bible only available in a translation not used at my church. As a result, I'm always suggesting to people that they undertake a specialty edition binding a broad selection of Reformed standards -- the Westminster Standards, the Three Forms of Unity, the Thirty-Nine Articles, and so on -- with the text of Scripture. Why don't they do it? Beats me, but I suspect the fear is that such a Bible would be too specialized. 

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The ESV Minister's Bible faces a similar challenge in that, if you already have certain preferences in place for how certain rites are to be performed or certain questions answered, the Ministry Resources Guide may or may not correspond. Based on its omission of a form for communion and the inclusion of side-by-side forms for baptism and "infant dedication," I'd say it will prove most helpful to ministers in a Baptist or at least baptistic context. 

On the other hand, the inclusion of a list of "tough questions" along with suggested answers could be a life saver for anyone in ministry. The point is, you can only offer specialized help for a particular group by being willing to sacrifice universal appeal. Personally, I'm grateful somebody out there is willing to make that sacrifice, because we need more tools like this, not fewer

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Physically, the Minister's Bible in Black Calfskin bears an uncanny resemblance to the Tyndale Select NLT I reviewed a while back, so much so that I'll go out on a limb and guess they're bound by the same people. (But that's just a guess, don't quote me or anything.) The cover behaves the same, the same grain patterns are there, the same raised bands on the spine, the same border around the cover's edge, and we even see the same rather skimpy ribbons. 

In other words, this edition comes with a very attractive, satisfyingly limp calfskin cover that feels broken in right out of the box. You can literally peel the cover back. And the raised bands on the spine are a nice touch. The binding is sewn.

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The grain pattern features long vertical striations reminiscent of buffalo grain. The grain relief is relatively shallow, though, so as you run your fingers over the surface the cover feels smooth -- or at least, smoothish. My review copied came direct from Hendrickson, and there's a slight blemish on the front cover, just visible if you examine the photo below, located a bit right of center. Leather's a natural product, after all.

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Leaving aside the Ministry Resources Guide, inside we find a familiar-looking ESV text setting. The typography was done by Crossway and, like the Collins text blocks used in Allan's bindings, the printing was done in China. Here's what it looks like inside:

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The two column reference layout features readable 9.5 pt type. The actual page size is 9.25 x 6.25, with perhaps a quarter inch of cover overhand. The 1152-page text block is 1.25 inches thick (but note that the number pages stop at 1134. There's a concordance and a nice set of color maps, as well as a presentation page up front. Interestingly, this is a black letter edition, as you can see from the Beatitudes below:

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Now forgive me for this, but as I was snapping photos I kept trying to get one that illustrated how limp the cover was ... but thanks to my prime lens I had a hard time holding it in one hand and taking the photo with the other. My arms needed to grow a few inches. Then I turned around and noticed the reading lamp my wife had thoughtfully provided. And so the Lamp Shot was born:

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As you can see, the cover offers almost not resistance to the weight of the text block. Some people don't like this -- not just because it looks so decadent, but because in a larger Bible they feel it makes the book harder to grapple. I lean the other way. Limp covers allow you to fold the side you're not using around, making a large Bible handier than it otherwise would be, a great feature if you tend to hold your Bible in your hand while teaching rather than setting it on a pulpit or lectern. 

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And I should correct one thing I said earlier. While the ribbons look similar to the Tyndale Select ones, they aren't as stubby. They do actually overlap the page at the bottom corner, meaning you can use them to open the book to a marked passage. Now that I've grown accustomed to the thick Allan's ribbons, though, it's hard not to miss them when using the more typical thin variety. On the Bible Design Blog Facebook Fan page (linked at right, just click on the icon) replacing ribbons is all the rage. If I were using the Minister's Bible extensively, I'd look into something like that.

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Again, the limpness of the cover is gorgeous. As I've mentioned elsewhere, the purpose of the Yoga Shot (below) is to illustrate limpness by showing how the cover responds to weight. A stiff cover will give more of a circular arc, the two sides acting as a sort of bridge, keeping the spine at its apex. With very limp covers, the spine will sag down, giving more of a mouse ears effect as you see here. 

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Now what about size comparisons? I paired the Minister's Bible with two editions with comparable text features to see how they stack up in terms of bulk. Of course, only the Minister's Bible also includes the Ministry Resources Guide. First, here's the Minister's Bible stacked with an Allan's Reader's Edition, which has larger 10.3 pt type. As you can see, they're quite similar in height, width, and thickness:

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Next, I compared it with the most common size ESV in use, the Classic Reference ... in this case the cordovan calfskin edition from Crossway. As you can see, the Minister's Bible is taller and wider, a proportional shift that helps account for its more elegant handling characteristics. It also looks thinner in the photos, but I think the thickness of the cordovan edition's cover has something to do with that.

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And what comparison would be complete without an idea of how the Minister's Bible compares to a personal size Filofax (which corresponds roughly to the dimensions of Cambridge's Pitt Minion)?

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I'll end with a couple of shots of the Ministry Resources Guide. In my view, the decision to purchase a Minister's Bible comes down to whether you're going to make use of this guide or not. If so, then the bells and whistles ensure that you'll have a pleasant-to-use, quality edition to go along with the guide. If you're not going to use it but want a similar look, you'd probably be better off with one of Crossway's black calfskin editions.

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All too often, when publishers do take a risk on a specialized edition, they only make it available in economy bindings. You can't fault the reasoning, but it's certainly a frustrating reality for users who choose the specialty volume, since they have to sacrifice the hallmarks of fine quality they'd like to have alongside the special helps. For that reason alone, I'm thrilled that Hendrickson has chosen to make the Minister's Bible available in such a nice binding. If the Guide sounds useful to you, I'd encourage you to check it out.

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In addition to the ESV, Hendrickson offers the Minister's Bible in a variety of translations. I imagine there are variations between them, so you can't treat this review as representative of the whole, but if you're looking for a specialized minister's edition but don't use the ESV, take a look at some of the other options linked below.